Imagine this call occurring on April 18, 2008, in Washington, D.C.:
9-1-1 Operator: “What is your emergency?”
Paul Revere: “The British are coming! The British are coming!”
Operator: “Stay on the line. Do not arm yourself or you will be subject to arrest.”
Thankfully, Revere’s armed countrymen answered his midnight call on April 18, 1775, to resist British troops marching to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Minute Men on Lexington Green defied the British order: “Disperse you damn rebels—Damn you, throw down your arms and Disperse.”
The Revolutionary patriots, who prevailed at gunpoint, understood that their posterity must have the right to keep and bear arms to preserve the blessings of liberty. They included the Second Amendment in the Constitution for that reason.
Nonetheless, in 1976, the constitutionally comatose Washington, D.C. city council banned residents from keeping a handgun in their homes for self-defense. The Supreme Court declared the ban unconstitutional in a 5-4 decision last week in District of Columbia v. Heller, ruling for the first time that the Amendment secures an individual right to keep and bear arms unconnected to service in a militia.
The Founders, who risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to secure their liberty and ours, trusted peaceable people to be armed because they were one with us, not sovereign over us. Comparing their convictions with those of current government officials reveals a striking contrast in character and common sense:
- “Resistance to sudden violence, for the preservation not only of my person, my limbs, and life, but of my property, is an indisputable right of nature which I have never surrendered to the public by the compact of society, and which perhaps, I could not surrender if I would.” John Adams
- “Indeed, not a word in the constitutional text even arguably supports the Court’s overwrought and novel description of the Second Amendment as “elevat[ing] above all other interests” “the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.” Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissent in Heller, joined by Justices David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer.
- “Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation ... Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” James Madison, The Federalist 46
- “They cling to their guns or religion … out of frustration.” Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) Obama supported the D.C. ban on handguns.
- “Are we at last brought to such a humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted for our own defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in our possession and under our own direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?” Patrick Henry
- “I am profoundly disappointed in Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, both of whom assured us of their respect for precedent. With this decision, 70 years of precedent has gone out the window. And I believe the people of this great country will be less safe because of it.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)
- “That the Constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress to infringe on the just liberty of the press or the rights of conscience; or to prevent “the people” of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.” Samuel Adams
- “We’re here to tell the NRA their nightmare is true! We’re going to hammer guns on the anvil of relentless legislative strategy! We’re going to beat guns into submission!” Rep. (now Sen.) Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)
- “A free people ought ... to be armed.” George Washington
- “An angry Mayor Richard Daley [Chicago] on Thursday called the Supreme Court’s overturning of the Washington D.C. gun ban ‘a very frightening decision’ and vowed to fight vigorously any challenges to Chicago’s ban.”
- “Laws that forbid the carrying of arms... disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes... Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.” Thomas Jefferson
- “Mayor Gavin Newsom [San Francisco] said he will fight for more gun-control efforts in the City despite a landmark, pro-gun U.S. Supreme Court ruling and an expected legal battle with the National Rifle Association.”
- “If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no resource left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government, and which against the usurpations of the national rulers, may be exerted with infinitely better prospect of success than against those of the rulers of an individual state.” Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist No. 28
- “It’s a bitter irony that this setback comes in the name of a right to self-defense. As Senator Kennedy has repeatedly pointed out, members of the Roberts Court have consistently shown their determination to impose regressive changes in the law despite their claims of judicial humility at their confirmation hearings.” Office of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.)
- “The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand, arms, like laws, discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property.” Thomas Paine
After 232 years of liberty, the constitutional bedrock of our freedom hangs precariously by one vote on the Supreme Court. It has yet to decide if the right secured by the Amendment applies to states and municipalities.